Making Things Fly and and Float with STEM

Sat, 12/12/2015
Ms. Zayed's students flying hot air balloons made of tissue paper out in the football field.
Ms. Zayed's students flying hot air balloons made out of tissue paper in the football field.

Recently, I noticed an increase in the number of students in the hallways and outside, in the park around Brooks, doing science projects. I found out asking the students that they were mostly in Ms. Tyagi and Ms. Zayed's STEM classes, so I went to look for Ms. Zayed and put together this interview.


Jalynn Webb: I was looking around the school and noticed you and Ms. Tyagi had students conduct experiments in the hallways and out in the park. What laws or theories were you exploring through these experiments? 

Lina Zayed: There are several: There is Archimedes’ principle, there are the gas laws, the physics laws of buoyancy, different studies as to how quadratic formulas apply to physics laws, Newton’s laws, you name it. It’s there. And you are referring the STEM classes, not the traditional classes, right? 

JW: Right.

LZ: These projects are introduced so that students learn hands-on through investigation and discovery, while building stuff. So they apply what they know, they learn new math and new science as they complete these projects. It’s not a traditional classroom where there is just: lecture - do your homework - come back. It’s not like that at all. There are these objects they have to build, they have rubrics they have to follow. Some students even create their own rubrics because they take ownership for their own education. That builds awareness. 

 And then some students like it, some students don’t, because they are used to traditional patterns of learning. But the majority of the students do and they enjoy doing these projects because we take the time in class to actually construct them. If they were industry engineers, this is what they would do. 

Later in my STEM class we are going to be partners with Motorola. We are going to kickoff this partnership on January 12: The students will design, present and build apps. They will start from a problem they would like to solve. For example, it could be a way to let the dogs out from your house remotely at a certain time of day. The app would activate a port in the house, let the dogs out and wait until they got back in, so you don’t have to get out of bed! Or it could be an app to help people with disabilities: If a person is blind, an app could notify which buildings have facilities for the disabled. Students have written down ideas for possible apps of this sort. They will be working on this in their groups and we are going to compete with other schools in May, through the Motorola Challenge. Through this collaboration we are hoping to get some resources, be it androids, laptops, something. At this moment, we have also a mentoring program where actual professionals work with us through Skype, twice a month: We ask them questions about things we are working on, and they help us address them.

 So this class is really, really neat because it’s innovative, it’s built as you go. We never had something like this. So I am looking for different projects throughout. For example, one of the problems was, “How do you build a boat using cardboard?” We had to come up with what kind of cardboard we could use, people donated that, students had to build the boats, they had to know the science behind it, they had to know the math, they had to know the physics, etc. Building the boats and launching them was one aspect, but then there was the learning that went on in mastering all the science principles, applications, and math and physics. And when I say "science" that encompasses chemistry and physics. That was also what we applied in making the hot air balloons out of tissue paper. Some of them flew and some of them got stuck up on a roof out there somewhere. Which is cool anyway, because you have to understand the forces that account for the failures. In the end, this class is about using all of STEM, it goest back to that aspect: How are we going to use the science? How are going to use the technology? How are we going to use the engineering? How are we going to use the math. 

JW: What’s the next project you will be working on in your STEM class?

LZ: The next project is building bridges and many of my students are also in my math classes where we are learning about quadratic functions. Quadratic functions apply very well to building bridges. We use physics to study how different stresses affect bridge construction. Students will come up with the designs, we’ll discuss if they are feasible, we are going to test them to see if they break or not. And the students that succeed are going to join Mr. Reed and Ms Gonzales’  Science Olympiads, so they can take their concepts a step further. 

JW: How do you plan your lessons? 

LZ: In this class we don’t tell students, “Here is a project. Go do it.” There are many aspects to it. There are papers they have to write correctly, there is research that they have to look up, besides the various applications they have to use and know, they get formative assessments, they get summatives, which are not the traditional summatives, like, “Here is a test.” No, it’s not like that, but the projects they do. And then there is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.

At the end of each period they are held accountable for what they do. They are given a self-evaluation which they fill out and I agree or disagree with them. So they weight themselves on a scale from 1 to 12, based on their cooperation, based on their work ethics and on their preparation. If I don’t agree with them we have a conversation: “Why did they give themselves a 12 when I feel they should have gotten a 6 or 7?” And that stimulates students to continue to work. They get positive reinforcement with that as well, once they get the ball moving.

JW: Your class sounds wonderful! 

LZ: Thank you!

JW: See, this is why I love Brooks. Now, can you tell me something about your professional career? 

LZ: I started teaching in 1994, but I was working part-time. Then I stopped and had my children. I went back to work as a full time teacher in 1999, for 14 years, same school. Eventually I left and went into industry because I wanted to work in a field related to my degree in chemistry. There I learned about formulas for hair products for the African-American market. I left there after some time and opened my own hair salon. Eventually I closed that and began making my own products, which I still try to sell now. The products I developed are a combination of shampoo, conditioner and oil, a system that makes your hair more manageable, it doesn’t matter what hair you have. It doesn’t straighten it, it softens it and it’s organic. Last year, I decided to go back part-time into education. I started in Oswego, but it was a long drive and I live further west of here. I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to be in the classroom by 6:30. It was too much. I was done by noon, but it was an hour drive back to the salon. I still have that salon but somebody else manages it and we sell my products. Finally, I found this position, as a full time teacher. I am also an adjunct teacher at Governor’s State University. I teach Cosmetic Chemistry there.

JW: Sounds like you are multitasking everywhere! 

LZ: It’s a lot, but this class has been a heaven’s send. I love what I do. It’s a lot of work. Every day you have to come up with ideas. It’s not just doing this stuff, it’s understanding why you are doing it and what’s going on as you are doing it. Why it may fail, why it may work. So… it takes time! It takes energy. It’s exhausting by the end of the day. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it. And the people here are unbelievable: I worked at other schools and by far this is the best. From administrators to colleagues. They are helpful. Even though our school has a beautiful facility, we lack resources; but that somehow is compensated by the kids wanting to learn, so we don’t have to put up that show that other schools put on just to have the students focus. They want to learn… in most cases! It’s almost like a balancing act. So we’ll see how the year goes, but so far, knock on metal! [Ms. Zayed hits her knuckles on a metal cabinet next to her as she chuckles.]

[We both laugh.] 

LZ: Do you have any more questions? 

JW: No, I think you touched on everything I wanted to talk to you about. Thank you, Ms. Zayed. 

LZ: You are welcome.